Third Week of Advent: Thaddeus

His soul followed the sun. Every spring, with days longer and brighter, life crept into his bones. With summer, he welcomed the ruggedness he felt, the hope, the way his gaze always returned West, remembering. But every winter, as the cold and the dark swallowed more and more of the shining light, Thaddeus felt a grayness settle over him. Each season of his soul brought him a different kind of gift, but he hadn’t always seen it this way.

When he was young and ambitious, Thad fought the gray. Spring and summer were no trouble, of course, but gray doesn’t help a fellow get along with any of the things enterprising people are supposed to get along with. Gray, so far as I know, never gets a mention as a career builder. Not one of his Ph.D. supervisors ever added, “Thad does gray really well,” on his recommendation letters. A few girls liked the brooding type for a bit, but they eventually they would find an excuse to move along.
Of course, you can only push something down so long. During winter break of his first year teaching, Thaddeus surrendered and allowed the gray to run wild. The episode concluded with Thad halfway across the country, huddled in an icy corner of an abandoned gas station 50 miles east of El Paso with 2 gallons of stolen Mexican moonshine in his backpack and a weathered copy of Letters to a Young Poet in his pocket. Thad learned a few things during that jag.
On December 24th, Thad stood by the empty road in front of that wasted shelter, with a couple frozen shrub bushes as company. Thad had never been in a more desolate place. And yet he had survived. Thad had met the gray full-on, and he was still standing. Limping, but standing. Inside the station, you could see the scribble on the wall next to a shattered windows: Thad was here – all of him.
Thaddeus took a deep swig of moonshine, stuck his thumb out and smiled.

A Conversation with Thaddeus

Thaddeus sat silent and still, watching the gnarled oaks drape their rusty-gold canopy over the cool earth. Thaddeus hadn’t spoken for a nice long while. If I didn’t know better, I would have assumed he’d dozed off. But I did know better. If you spend time with Thaddeus, you grow accustomed to awkward silences stretching so long you sometimes forget what exactly you were talking about before the quiet, back in all the noise when everything was so damn urgent. More than once I’ve forgotten a question – or had an entirely different question take shape – while sitting with Thaddeus doing nothing but wasting time.

The leaves waved slightly, and the crisp breeze refreshed me. Thaddeus sat next to me, watching and resting. Every so often, he would sigh contentedly, like he had just enjoyed the final note of a piece of fine music or finished the last word of a conversation with an old friend.

Eventually, he spoke. “Why are you running?”

“Running?” I answered, incredulous. “I’m not running. She left me. I’m still there, in the empty house. You can blame me for a lot of things, but not for running. I was too stupid to run.”

Quiet, again. Thaddeus watched a brown squirrel stuff an acorn into his swelling cheeks and scamper away. Then he looked straight at me. “Pax,” he said, “you know as well as I do there are a thousand ways to run – and you’ve tried most. Ailla only left last week, but you left a long, long time ago.”

The words sliced. I hated them. I feared them. They angered me. “So, what am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know, Pax, ” Thaddeus said as he stood and stretched. “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m grabbing my pipe and taking a walk.”

if you are so inclined, you can discover more snippets with thaddeus bogert

Indigo Bloom

Two beefy fellows grunted as they lugged me into Harris & Sons Fine Furniture. I strained for a look, but my plastic-wrapped cocoon allowed only hazy glimpses. Unfortunately, I smelled everything. The moist armpits hugging me added a vinegary fetor to the fog of stale cigarettes and salami I’d inhaled the entire trip. Every stinky, bumpy mile from Hickory, North Carolina.

A bony man maneuvered me to the prime perch, the front window display. Apparently I was all the rage. The previous spring, a New Yorker copyeditor whose desk (so far as anyone knew) squatted among the clanking boilers received a last minute assignment to produce filler for an issue on nouveaux home décor. He had only twenty minutes to figure out what exactly home décor entailed before he sat down and banged out a title: “Return of the Blues.”

I once heard that most fashion crazes trace back to a rich, 70-something hippie in Topeka, stoned out of his mind but laughing his ass off. All I know is that here I was, soaking up the sunlight and enjoying a stream of women walking in to rub my indigo fabric. No complaints by me.

My arrival bumped an emerald green couch, a classy little import from a village on the French Riviera (or the Côte d’Azur she insisted), back to the showroom floor. I offered an olive branch, explaining how that of all the couches I’d known, her delicate curves and silk buttons were most exquisite. She only grew more livid. I’m a chaise lounge, you ninny!

A woman with grey-flecked hair and tired, kind eyes purchased me; and I arrived at the house where the years clicked by. The years and the people.

There was the boy who used me for a springboard. Cape attached, he bounced mercilessly until (sweet relief) he would catapult across the living room. The adults were convinced he needed meds. I think he just needed people to stop telling him what to feel. His grandparents cared for him best they knew, but what could ever make up for all the love he’d lost?

The young, giddy couple, bright for life. Many Saturdays, they’d collect the lingerie and underwear that landed on me the night before. Eventually they split up because she wanted more, while he could never say what it was he wanted.

Decades passed. The faces faded. I faded. Eventually, someone suggested a trip to the dump. Long ago – the show-window, that sexy chaise lounge.

But Thaddeus, retired now from the university, would hear nothing of it. Just gettin’ comfy, he said. Thaddeus had a couple college boys cart me onto the oversized porch, near the old Japanese maple. Most mornings, Thad comes to sit. He tamps his pipe, and together we watch the world and smile. We both think our upholstery is just fine.


This piece was written for the Life With Objects project brilliantly architected by my friend and fellow word-crafter Hope Voelkel. You really should hop over and check out what they are doing and some of the other writers. 

Goodbye

I can’t say it surprised me when she left. I would have thought we’d have a final conversation, an argument at least. Maybe sit on the floor of the living room and drain a last bottle of wine while she would cry and tell me again how much I’ve changed, how she doesn’t know me anymore. We’d let loose with all the regret and sadness and rage and then send it all up in flames with the sex we hadn’t had since God knows when. At the least, she’d leave a letter, the tired words of a woman lamenting what should have been.

But I came home to a yellow post-it stuck to the refrigerator: Goodbye, ~L. And that was that.

I don’t know where I was going, but I drove and drove and banged my fist on the dash and drove some more. Morning found me in a diner, seated in a faded red booth next to the window. At least it was quiet. Only me, a couple farmers and a waitress named Iva. The eggs and bacon grew cold on the greasy plate while I watched the rain splash off the asphalt and stirred two Splendas into my coffee. I stared and stirred and stirred and stirred, a clinking cadence of spoon and cup.

An hour later, I drove north on a familiar stretch of road. I didn’t know if I’d still find Prof Bogert at the university, years since we’d talked. I hadn’t planned this route, but of course this was where I was going. This drive was the most predictable part of the whole drama. When you’re lost, you’re desperate to be found. And Thaddeus Bogert was the one man who had never stopped looking for me.

After graduation, Thaddeus and I shared a farewell tea on his porch. “Good days are ahead,” he said. “Just remember – doing good isn’t the same as living good..”

“Alright, Thad. But you can stop scratching around for something. This is Yale. I made it!”

“You are on your way, well on your way, and I am crazy proud of you.” Thaddeus smiled at me until he knew I’d noticed. Then he tamped his pipe with a rhythm, a cue he was thinking more.

“Prof, you worried about me?”

“Worried?” he said, looking up and chuckling. “No, not worried. Hopeful.”

“You obviously have something else to say.” That’s one of the things I admired about Thaddeus. He never offered words uninvited.

“I’m still wondering what kind of man you want to be. And I’m curious if you are still wondering what kind of man you want to be.”

The conversation ended awkwardly. I loved that old man, but he didn’t always know the way the world actually works, how to get things done and make things happen. I was aiming for answers, but he was only getting started with the questions.

The wipers sloshed the rain back and forth. I could use one of those steaming cups of tea. I think I’d finally run headlong into the questions.

****
If you’d like, you can read an introduction to Thaddeus.

 

 

Thaddeus Bogert

A certain character has visited enough times for me to begin to think of him as a friend (at the least). I’d like to introduce him to you

*****
We rambled into Groten Hall, room 347, at a couple minutes to two. For the rest of our university career (except for this class), we would perfect the art of late, frantic arrivals. However, we were first year students, and this was our first day of classes. Most of us knew each other from freshman orientation, and now we would share First Year Seminar – a bland title for a bland two-credit course, with a bland catalogue description to match: “An introduction to the essentials needed for successful integration to academic life, Tuesdays and Thursdays / 2:05-2:55 / Groten Hall Room 347 / Dr. Thaddeus Bogert, D. Phil.”

Groten Hall was the second oldest building on campus, brownstone brick with weathered white Gothic pillars and trim. Because the campus had developed north, out from its original parcel, Groten Hall was now the most remote building on the university grounds. Room 347 was an ample space with windows stretching almost ceiling to floor and offering a view of the old oaks. Amazingly, the room still enjoyed its original dark cherry wood floor, buffed nicely though showing the character of its years.

As we entered (not quietly) and took our seats, Professor Bogert hunched over his heavy desk, baptized in whatever he was reading. Unruly, grey hair spilled over his ears. His glasses hung at the end of his nose, defying gravity and refusing to tumble over the edge. The elbow patches on his brown cardigan were nearly worn through. Prof Bogert never looked up, not so much as a flinch or a grunt. He sat dead-still, as if entranced by some other world. Our laughter and boisterous chatter crescendoed, still nothing. Proffessor Bogert seemed unaware that there was a single other person in the universe. The only hint that he wasn’t a wax character was the slight – ever so slight – motion from his lips, like some inward thought escaped in silence. A time or two, we caught a glimpse of what I would now describe (though I could not have described it then) as the crack of a quiet grin. I’ve now come to know this expression now – the moment when something beautiful catches you by surprise, like the crisp whiff of Fall or an unexpected kiss.

But there he sat.

And then, at precisely the moment when the clock on the back wall clicked 2:05, Professor Bogert stood up. He stuck his pipe in his mouth and walked slowly around to the front of his desk. He leaned back on the front edge and took a deep pull from his Virginia tobacco. And waited.

The second hand on the clock clicked in rhythm. The wood floors creaked with our slightest movement. The walls groaned quietly, thanks to the old boiler-heater. Professor Bogert took another pull. And waited.

Then, beginning at the back lefthand corner of the room, the old professor caught Levine’s eye – Levine, the one who sat as far away as possible. He locked on the poor boy and for five or six seconds held his gaze, smiling wide and deep, as if he was pouring a smile into poor, nervous Levine. Then, one by one, Prof Bogert went down the back row, generously peering into each person’s eyes for a few seconds, seconds that felt like days. The clock ticked, the floors creaked. And the old man with the kind, steel eyes took his sweet, sweet time with every single one of us.

We sat spellbound, unnerved but drawn in, while Professor Bogert took another long pull, exhaling hickory smoke. For the first time, he spoke. “The world is more beautiful than you’ve imagined. The world is more terrifying than you’ve imagined. What should we do with this truth?”